Translation as a career
Translation as a career

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Translation as a career

4.3 Semantic vs communicative translation part 3

Newmark argued that the vast majority of texts require a communicative rather than a semantic translation. He suggested that the communicative approach is to be adopted for most non-literary writing, textbooks, technical writing, popular fiction, propaganda, whereas the semantic approach is to be adopted for texts ‘where the specific language of the speaker or writer is as important as the content’. Indeed, for Newmark, ‘any important statement requires a version as close to the original lexical and grammatical structure as is obtainable’ (Newmark, 1981, p. 44). The example he provides is of Charles de Gaulle’s 18 June 1940 broadcast and adds that autobiography, private correspondence and any personal effusion requires ‘semantic treatment’ since the ‘intimate flavour of the original is more important than its effect on the reader’ (1981, p. 45).

Activity 6

In the following table, rephrase each of the semantic translations into English into a more appropriate communicative one. Even if you do not understand the source language, you should be able to understand the semantic translation sufficiently to be able to produce a workable communicative version:

Source textSemantic translationCommunicative translation
Bissiger Hund!Dog that bites!
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Défense de marcher sur le gazonIt is forbidden to walk on the turf
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Attention / GlissantAttention / Slippery
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Frisch gestrichen!Recently painted!
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Hombres trabajandoMen working
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Al salir tengan cuidado de no introducir el pie entre coche y andénWhen you leave, take care not to put your foot in between the train and the platform
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一箭双雕One arrow for two birds
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软硬兼施Soft and hard measures combined
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Vietato l’ingressoEntry forbidden
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Si prega di non disturbareYou are asked not to disturb
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Words: 0
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Answer

Source textSemantic translationCommunicative translation
Bissiger Hund!Dog that bites!Beware of the dog!
Défense de marcher sur le gazonIt is forbidden to walk on the turfKeep off the grass
Attention / GlissantAttention / SlipperyCaution / Slippery when wet
Frisch gestrichen!Recently painted!Wet paint!
Hombres trabajandoMen workingMen at work
Al salir tengan cuidado de no introducir el pie entre coche y andénWhen you leave, take care not to put your foot in between the train and the platformMind the gap
一箭双雕One arrow for two birdsTo kill two birds with one stone
软硬兼施Soft and hard measures combinedThe carrot and stick approach
Vietato l’ingressoEntry forbiddenNo entry
Si prega di non disturbareYou are asked not to disturbDo not disturb

Which approach you choose to adopt will undoubtedly depend on the translations you have to deal with. Often as a first draft, it feels natural to work semantically, e.g. from the smaller units and then build up into something more communicative, but there are many ways of tackling material for translation. At times, you might want to spell things out more literally and then a semantic approach might be more appropriate.

Now, if you would like to try the activity the other way round, it will enable you to practise doing both a semantic and a communicative translation into any language you speak. For each expression in the English source text in the first column, do a semantic translation (i.e. translate it word for word) into your other language. Then, in the communicative translation column, see if you can think of a more idiomatic way to say it in that language. If you are not sure, you can look it up online!

Source textSemantic translationCommunicative translation
Beware of the dog!
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Keep off the grass
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Caution / Slippery when wet
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Wet paint!
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Men at work
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Mind the gap
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To kill two birds with one stone
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The carrot and stick approach
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No entry
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Do not disturb
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Words: 0
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